Glenn Danzig's directorial debut Verotika is now available to rent on Amazon Prime and Vudu, and will hit disc later this month. Though I called it "one of the absolute worst movies I’ve seen open a festival," Danzig's horror anthology film was probably the single best theatrical viewing experience I had last year. That said: the term "so bad it's good" is a cheap and reductive way to watch even bad movies, and it's important to prime audiences for how to read this singular work of - I shit you not - a total auteur. Though it was clearly made on a low budget, its problems are more due to Danzig's creative decisions than lack of money. Because more than anything else, this is a Danzig movie.
First, you’re definitely going to want to listen to some French accents. Much of the cast of Verotika comes from both France and the porn industry. The actors’ performances rarely bear sufficient emotion to indicate what they’re talking about. So all you have are the words, and if you’re not au fait with the French accent, you’re going to get absolutely lost.
But don’t bother getting acquainted with the folklore around Countess Báthory, upon which the movie’s third segment is loosely based. None of the information is going to illuminate any additional meaning in the shallow story it inspired. Instead, get into the head of someone who thinks that that story, after literally dozens of film adaptations, is still so totally brutally metal that audiences just won't be able to handle it, man.
Do, however, take a nice long bath. Savour it. Take note of how long it takes, because you’re going to watch the Báthory segment's lead actress take a bath essentially in real-time. She’s bathing in blood, granted, but that’s no excuse for Danzig’s apparent fixation on keeping every single frame he shot of that interminable scene. You can virtually hear him directing from off-camera, savouring every stupid boob-filled moment.
Digging a bit deeper, you’ll want to watch some good movies, and not just as a tonic to help Verotika go down. Learn about how they’re made, too. You’ll want to know the basic visual grammar of cinema; how chiaroscuro lighting works; the way editing can dictate the pace of a scene. You’ll want to know how a set operates; how directors communicate with their actors, and how actors interpret those directions. You’ll want to know these things because for the most part, Verotika fails at doing all of them, and knowing how the sausage is made makes the experience all the more astounding. Understanding how weird Danzig's creative choices are, and attempting to divine how they arose, is a big part of the party.
You may also want to watch the films that directly influenced Verotika, like the work of Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Pay attention to their lighting schemes in particular, so that when you see the flat, primary-coloured lighting in Verotika, you can at least have some idea of what Danzig was trying to accomplish. Know that Danzig made this movie believing he was working in the mould of those old Italian masters, shooting - as he said in the premiere Q&A - "with F-stops" instead of, I guess, how the kids today make movies. (F-stops have never gone out of use, and even Danzig's assertion of "shooting with F-stops" is a weird thing to say.)
Most importantly, you’ll want to get acquainted with Danzig. But you don’t need to be acquainted with his music, really - it doesn't really factor into the movie. Instead, focus on Danzig the weird celebrity: the Danzig who maintains steadfast self-seriousness even as he descends into what for anyone else would be self-parody; the Danzig who believes anything he does is revolutionary and system-bucking simply because he’s doing it; the Danzig who is probably enraged that the horror/punk/metal scene has been mainstreamed enormously since he arrived on it. You have to realise Danzig considers Verotika to be ingenious and radical, because the actual movie is pretty tame - which only makes it funnier. Though its problems are present in other films, only an outpouring of Danzig's id could have made the highly specific film that is Verotika.
My final piece of advice is: see this movie with friends. Verotika requires an audience not only to maximise its entertainment, but to make it even tolerable. With an audience, you'll collectively pick up on more of the film's unique oddness. You'll find delightful things together, and you'll bond through the enjoyment of them. Even the film's pervasive misogyny will cease to induce discomfort and start inducing laughter at how determinedly antiquated and dumb it is. Watching this movie alone would be like being the lone spectator at a sports game; the sole audience member at a comedy club; the guy who turned up to the orgy but got the address wrong so just wanked in an empty parking lot.
The more in touch with cinema you are, the more you'll get out of Verotika. That's something you'd usually say about high art, but it's equally applicable to high trash. And boy, is Verotika the highest goddamned trash you'll see this year.